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Who Has Most Influenced You?

Tips for a College Interview Question on Heroes or Influential People

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"Who has most influenced you?"

The question comes in many variations: Who is your hero? Who deserves the most credit for your success? Who is your role model? In short, the question is asking you to discuss someone you admire.

This question, like many, is not difficult, but you do want to think about it for a few minutes before your interview. A few answers can fall flat, so think twice before giving responses such as these:

  • Myself -- In truth, you probably are the person who is most responsible for your success. You may, in fact, be self-reliant with no real heroes. However, if you answer this question with yourself you will sound self-absorbed and selfish. Colleges want to admit students who help each other out and work as a community. They don't want solitary egotists.
  • Gandhi or Abe Lincoln -- If you have great respect for an admirable historical figure, that's wonderful. Such answers, however, can come across sounding like you're trying to make a good impression, not like you're answering the question sincerely. In your day-to-day life of classes, extracurricular activities, tests, and relationships, is Abe Lincoln really influencing your behavior?
  • Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama -- Here, as with the example above, is the president (or Senator, Governor, etc.) really influencing and guiding you in your day-to-day life? This question has an added danger. Your interviewer will do his or her best to be unbiased, but interviewers are human. If you name a Democrat and your interviewer is a staunch Republican, your response could create a subconscious strike against you in the interviewer's mind.
  • God -- At a college with a religious affiliation, God could be a fine answer. At many colleges, however, the answer is a crap shoot. The admissions officer may admire your faith. Some interviewers, however, will be skeptical of students who attribute their successes to prayer and divine guidance.
  • My Dog -- Fido may be a great pet who has taught you responsibility and unconditional love, but keep your answer in the world of humans. Colleges are made up of humans.

So who should you name as a hero or influential person? Speak from the heart here. There is no right answer other than a sincere answer. Also, realize that an influential person isn't always a positive example. You may have grown and changed as a result of someone whose mistakes or inappropriate behavior taught you what not to do with your life. Answers to the question can draw from lots of different options:

  • A Family Member -- For most of us, parents and siblings have a huge impact on our lives. Answering with a family member is fairly predictable but also perfectly appropriate. Just make sure you can articulate the specific ways in which the family member influenced you.
  • A Teacher -- Is there a particular teacher who got you excited about learning, a subject area, or continuing your education?
  • A Friend -- For good or bad, your close friends have a huge influence on your decisions and behavior.
  • A Coach -- Coaches often teach us leadership, responsibility and teamwork.
  • A Community Member -- Do you have a mentor in the church or some other community organization? Community members often teach us to think outside of the narrow sphere of our families.
Whatever your answer, bring the influential person to life for your interviewer. Avoid vague generalities. Provide colorful, entertaining, and specific examples of how the person has influenced you.

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